India need to win to keep the series alive. England know that they have the ability and momentum to overtake the tourists and become the No.1 ranked side in the world.
Chris Tremlett has been declared unfit, which will have alleviated the selection headache: Tim Bresnan will play as England field the same bowling attack they did at Trent Bridge. In the absence of Jonathan Trott, the returning Ravi Bopara will slot into the middle order. We assume this will be at five or six, with Ian Bell continuing at three.
All change. With Zaheer Khan ruled out of the tour, they will probably be stuck with the same seam and swing options as they had in Nottingham, although there is a chance Munaf Patel will come into the side as a replacement for Harbhajan Singh. Should India decide to go in with a spinner, leg spinner Amit Mishra will get the nod.
Both regular openers (Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag) are deemed to be ready to play, allowing Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to return to their usual positions. This leaves the choice of either Suresh Raina or Virat Kohli to take the final spot in Yuvraj Singh’s absence – despite his hundred in the tour game at Northants, Abhinav Mukund looks set to miss out. This match will be a fine time for MS Dhoni to find some form, India need their captain to lead from the front in such a vital game. That said, if their cast of stars perform as they can do, they may head to the Oval with all to play for.
The new look Edgbaston (our verdict: lovely) has offered spin and seam this year, but little in the way of pace. In recent years it has hosted fairly low-scoring Test matches and there is little reason to expect different this week. The weather forecast shows some showers every day, with plenty of cloud cover, which will encourage England’s bowlers and may mean that the captain who wins the toss chooses to field for the third consecutive match (though if Dhoni inserts England again, he has bigger balls than us).
With plenty of English players in form, our attention turns to the top of the order. Alastair Cook has been dismissed early in every innings so far, whilst Andrew Strauss has failed to convert some solid starts. In their quest for excellence, a big opening partnership would be welcome.
India need to take 20 wickets. Each of their quicker bowlers have performed well for short periods, but sustained pressure is necessary if they are to bowl England out twice. They will be pleased just to have four fit and able bowlers to choose from, but if Mishra can provide control (unlike the lacklustre Harbhajan) then their prospects will be enhanced.
We predict a riot. And a much closer match than we have seen so far this series.